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Saturday, April 17, 2021

Sports

Abbie Jackson, the heartbeat of UH volleyball


Sophomore outside Abbie Jackson rises up for the kill during a 2021 UH volleyball match. | Courtesy of UH athletics

Sophomore outside Abbie Jackson rises up for the kill during a 2021 UH volleyball match. | Courtesy of UH athletics

Volleyball has always been in Abbie Jackson’s DNA. It was a passion she knew she wanted to pursue from a young age.

At just five years old, the Gig Harbor, Washington, native was already bumping the ball around, and by eight years old she was competing at the club level.

“(Playing volleyball collegiately has) been my goal since I can remember,” Jackson said during a Zoom call with The Cougar. “In middle school, I figured out I could potentially play at a college level. So ever since then, it’s been my dream and goal.”

Fast forward to 2019 and the 6-foot outside hitter was living out her dream, helping lead Houston volleyball to its first postseason appearance since 2000.

Despite earning various honors as a freshman, including being named the American Athletic Conference Offensive Player of the Week in early Sept. 2019, and earning a spot on the All-Tournament Team at the UTSA classic, Jackson was not satisfied with her season and specifically strove to improve in the mental aspect of the game.

Both Jackson and her head coach, David Rehr, understood that Jackson’s emotions often got the best of her throughout her freshman season, and she would have to improve her mentality in order to take the next step as a volleyball player.

“One of my main focuses was improving my mental game. I’m super hard on myself, so just learning how to fix that and be more outwardly so I can help my team rather than crumble into myself,” Jackson said.

“So that was a huge goal for me coming into my sophomore season is to be a leader, and I just worked a ton on my mental aspect of volleyball,” Jackson added.

As in everything she does, Jackson worked extremely hard on improving her mindset and controlling her emotions during UH volleyball’s elongated offseason due to the coronavirus pandemic.

When the Cougars returned to campus and could be together in person, Rehr immediately noticed a difference and began to put a bigger workload on Jackson as a way of pushing her, knowing how special of a player she is capable of becoming.

“The biggest thing that (Jackson’s) gotten really well at is she’s able to take the load of work we’re trying to give her and the stress that comes with it,” Rehr said. “We put a lot of workload on that kid and love how she just keeps succeeding every day.”

As Jackson proved that she could handle an intense workload, she gained more and more trust from her coach and teammates. As a result, Jackson emerged as someone the Cougars give the ball to more than almost any other player on the team.

And Jackson has delivered, totaling 171 kills, averaging 4.89 per set and improving her hitting percentage by over 100 points, going from a .152 hitting percentage as a freshman to .257 in the early stages of her sophomore season.

With Jackson’s success, the entire team follows and has succeeded as a unit, as the Cougars have started off the 2021 season 8-2, including a seven-match winning streak.

“She’s a ‘follow me and I’ll lead the way’ kind of kid versus a vocal kid,” Rehr said. “She’s going to be vocal to make sure the team’s in line and doing good things. But as a player, she’s an action kid and she won’t let us down. No matter what you, do she won’t let you down.”

What started out as a dream has quickly turned into a reality for Jackson, as she has not only become a starter for a Division 1 NCAA volleyball team, but the glue that holds the entire UH team together.

“What does (Jackson) mean to the team? Everything,” Rehr said. “She’s our heartbeat when we do stuff.”

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